Immigrants are Deported in Higher Numbers
than Asian and Middle
Reconsidering Immigrant Rights’ Challenge to
‘Racial Justice’ Work
By Tamara Kil Ja Kim Nopper
In the aftermath of 9-11, an agenda calling
for immigrant rights organizing and racial justice work to come
together has become popular in social justice circles.
Calls for coalition between the two camps were promoted
before 9-11, but began to gain more momentum (and funding) after
gestures of “solidarity” were mostly heard from immigrant
rights advocates, who used liberal political magazines,
conferences, their newsletters, and other public forums to argue
that racial justice politics could no longer ignore immigrants
now that immigrants were becoming, according to some, the main
victims of racial profiling and the prison system.
Some immigrant rights advocates pointed out
that immigrant rights work needed to have an analysis of state
violence and therefore make coalition with racial justice
movements, which had already been focusing on policing and
prisons. And some
racial justice folks publicly spoke to the need for their camps
to reach out to immigrants.
Indeed, it was only these sound bites—of racial justice
folks publicly chastising themselves and their kin—that seemed
to get any press in liberal political publications.
Yet this distinction between racial justice
and immigrant rights was grounded in assumptions of which
immigrants were being targeted by the state.
Racial justice has long been coded as Black, meaning that
we assume racial justice is justice for Blacks only.
Immigrant rights, therefore, is often juxtaposed in
opposition to racial justice issues, or issues that are
connected with Blacks. Immigrants
are racialized as Brown (Mexican, Central American and South
American) or as Asian or Middle Eastern (in most INS data, the
two regions are actually considered under a broad “Asian”
category that includes 39 nationalities).
In other words, immigrant rights is seen as speaking to
the needs of non-Black immigrant groups of color, whereas racial
justice is viewed as taking care of the needs of Blacks only.
Not only does the common juxtaposition of
immigrant rights versus racial justice promote the distorted yet
highly popular image of Blacks as politically selfish, it is
also a (false) distinction not grounded in the reality of who is
racially profiled for deportation. Looking at INS data of immigrant deportations from 1993-2002,
we actually see several trends that indicate immigrant rights
agendas are based in some misguided assumptions of which
immigrants are being routinely targeted by the state.
First, despite publicized reports inferring
otherwise, the total number of immigrant deportations—or the
forced removal of an immigrant to another country—are actually
down after 9-11. What
has probably increased is immigrant detention, for which numbers
are more difficult to get given the Department of Justice’s
unwillingness to release definitive figures.
Second, after 9-11, there was not
a stark increase among South Asians and Middle Easterners
getting deported, or among those nationalities identified as
Black immigrants (Caribbean or African nationalities) and Brown
immigrants (Mexican, Central American and South American
nationalities) had significantly higher numbers of deportations
compared to White (European nationalities) and Asian
nationalities (which includes Middle Eastern nationalities)
before and after 9-11.
To put it simply, Black immigrants have
higher numbers of deportations than Asian, Middle Eastern or
White immigrants. For
example, in 2002, there were 8,921 total deportations of Black
immigrants, whereas there were only 3,090 total deportations for
Whites and 4,317 total deportations for Asians and Middle
this trend is consistent from 1993-2002.
While it is not surprising that Brown
immigrants, especially those from Mexico, Guatemala, El
Salvador, and Honduras, are targeted by the state—given the
large amounts of money pumped into Border Patrol for staffing
and surveillance—the targeting of Black immigrants by the INS
does not tend to receive as much attention among immigrant
rights folks. Yet
Black immigrants, particularly Dominicans, Jamaicans and
Haitians, have relatively high rates of deportations.
And the number of Black immigrant deportations does not
include South Americans (such as Columbians, Brazilians and
Guyanese, who, relative to other South Americans, have high
deportation rates), many of whom may be Black.
And Black immigrants tend to have higher numbers of
deportations than Asians and Whites, despite the fact that the
rate of immigration from Africa and the Caribbean tends to be
slower than the rate of Asian and Brown immigration.
Given the limited attention given to Black
immigrants in the immigrant rights discourse, there is of course
little mention of the fact that between 1993 and 2002, Black
immigrants tend to be deported more for criminal deportations
than non-criminal deportations.
Asians (including Middle Easterns and many “Muslim”
nationalities), however, tended to be overwhelmingly deported
for non-criminal deportations than criminal deportations.
Between 1993 and 2002, the proportion of criminal
deportations out of all Asian deportations ranged between
24-34%, reaching the peak of 34% in 1999.
Compare that to the proportion of criminal deportations
out of all Black deportations.
During 1993 and 2002, criminal deportations of Black
immigrants ranged between 57-75%, reaching the peak of 75% in
1996. In short, criminal deportations are more common for Black
immigrants whereas the reverse is true for Asian immigrants.
The distinction between criminal deportations
and non-criminal deportations is important because it indicates
how different immigrant groups are racialized as inherently
“criminal,” and therefore seem to experience more state
surveillance as immigrants. Generally, criminal deportations mean that you were convicted
of a crime, with the result that you are removed from the
country after you serve your prison sentence.
Any non-naturalized immigrant, regardless of status, can
be forcibly removed from the US if they are convicted of an
aggravated felony, which is any crime that carries a one-year or
more sentence. Non-criminal
deportations are usually deportations of immigrants who
attempted to enter the US illegally or who overstayed their
initial visa without adjusting their status.
As William Branigan and Gabriel Escobar
report in a 1999 Washington
Post article (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45/151.html),
a significant proportion of criminal deportations are due to
drug-related convictions. Therefore,
the US’ “war on drugs,” which has translated into a war
against Black communities, also affects Black immigrants as
well. So too does
racial profiling and heavy police presence in Black communities.
Laws—particularly drug statutes that target Black
communities—and anti-Black racism in the criminal injustice
system, including the sentencing process, must be considered as
issues that inform immigrant experiences as well.
In light of these trends, immigrant rights
may need to reevaluate its lack of focus on Black immigrants. More to the point, immigrant rights activists may want to
question the lack of attention given to anti-Black racism as a
structure that shapes the immigrant experience.
It is apparent that darker people are not only the target
of domestic police measures, this targeting also serves to
largely determine who will get deported and for what reasons.
As the numbers show, Black people are targeted for
deportation just as they are targeted for prisons.
Yet the focus on Middle Eastern and (South)
Asian immigrants after 9-11 reveals a tendency among the large
majority of immigrant rights advocates to defend those
“innocent” immigrants who have been “criminalized”
instead of those immigrants who, because of racism, are
automatically viewed as criminal and therefore experience more
aggressive and routine forms of racial profiling.
Hence the current focus on “innocent” South Asian,
Middle Eastern and/or Muslim immigrants who are being “treated
like criminals,” or the tendency to defend immigrants on the
basis that they work hard, contribute to the economy and are
Overall, the racial trends of immigrant
deportations raise some important questions for immigrant rights
work to consider. First,
we may ask why immigrant rights activists and our allies—with
the exception of those who work specifically with Black
immigrants—tend to render Black immigrants invisible in our
current campaigns. Second,
we may question why it is that immigrant rights activism
operates with the apparently false dichotomy between immigrant
rights and racial justice work.
That is, we may consider why it is that we pose immigrant
rights work as distinct from racial justice work, despite the
revealing numbers that indicate Black bodies are targeted for
not only domestic forms of policing, but for immigrant
deportation as well. --
August 18, 2003
Tamara Kil Ja
Kim Nopper (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a journalist, educator, writer,
researcher, and activist currently based in Philadelphia.
Copyright 2003 © Tamara Kil Ja Kim Nopper
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* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to
promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of
Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 2 June 2012